Philosophical palindromes



Considerations based on the book by Olgária Matos

If there is an interesting mark of Olgária Matos's work in political philosophy, it is the eternal return she makes from the disenchanted contemporary world that occupies her so much to Greece. And not just any Greece but, counter-methodologically, the one that goes from Logos to myth, offensive to the assumption of meaning that leads to philosophically associating saying, thinking and being. A Greece full of demiurgic powers with their fabulous worlds from which to think ours, without magic.

Resonant space of language effects that are not yet metaphysical, but rather performants of a nature that does not yet end in truth. To say it like this other scholar woman thought-provoking and Hellenistic, his exact contemporary, who is Barbara Cassin, in The sophisticated effect, a work in which he also takes pleasure in challenging Socratism, which is abstract, universal, essential.

Here is what stands out most in Philosophical Palindromes. Between myth and history (2018). , which is “palindrome”. Figure made to praise – Mallarmé said “remunerate”: recognize and explore –, the lack of language –, by displaying infernal findings of legibility of the verbal sequence, even when long, outside of its distributive order, from back to front.

The palindrome takes language by surprise to show that a word, a group of words, an entire sentence does not need to be read in the fur sense to be valid, the phonemes functioning in both directions of the meaningful chain, as in “the tower of defeat” , for example. It thus spectacularly displays the arbitrariness of the assembly from which language is made. And even because the great researchers of such linguistic events, the Oulipians, who even experimented with entire narratives in this way, were mathematicians, it could be said that this is demonstrated as absurd. Proof that language is a roll of the dice: the word retraces its cycle inversely, changes circuit or “dromo”, without losing productivity.

Our palindromes, this lends itself to an interesting reading of Jacques Derrida, in the chapter “Derrida and monolingualism. From pure reason to Marrano reason.” Beautiful piece of essayistic prose, typically Olgarian, in which, to better understand the philosopher from the perspective of a Logos neither intelligible nor ascending, the author revolves the myth of punishment for the loss of isoglossia. It goes to the problem of the fundamental inadequacy of the language, also on screen in Cratyl of Plato, in a very different perspective. This allows him to put Derrida on the path of a philosophy that is not persuasive but intoxicating, as the dialogue of the Socratic-Platonic circle, masculine and assertive, would be like, if the recourse to mythology, so present in his practices, were not camouflaged as pedagogy and assumed the risk of his fiction. And thus give “difference”, with everything that implies endless refiguration of the sign, including possibilities of conceptually perfect reversibility of meaning – as in medicine equal to poison –, by deferring all finished meaning and guaranteeing contradiction.

Interestingly, in the aforementioned essay, this also involves paying attention to the issue of the many nations, and therefore the many languages ​​and identities of a Derrida with no place of origin. Like Eduardo Said, an important reference for Olgária Matos who moved, in the 2000s, to Unifesp, where he founded a chair under the aegis of this stateless person born in Jerusalem, before the new geopolitics of the Second World War, and raised in Cairo, when under British rule, in an Anglicanized Christian Arab family, which moves among Muslims. To end up at Harvard and die an American.

A French member of an Algerian community that is itself French, which, under Nazism, will deprive the Jews of Algeria of nationality, treating them as, in the past, Iberian Catholicism, which converted and deconverted the Marrrenos to Christianity, Derrida has no belonging sure some. He doesn't even claim to have it. And in this it is Greek, in line with the social relations of the Homeric world, with its heroic code, which associates philein (host) and ksénos (foreigner), to spread the equality of host and guest. And in this he is more Greek than Jew, unlike a Walter Benjamin who is more Jewish than Greek, or more theologian than philosopher, faced with the question of the original language.

Walter Benjamin – discriminates Olgária –, ponders the lost. An ancestral, Adamic, one and unique language, a pre-existing medium to the Babelian dispersion. Language to impose translation, moreover, in The translator's task, as a mission, at the limit inglorious, of confronting broken languages, frictioning their performative forces, making them collaborate minimally, but never decisively, with each other, never to redeem the debt. In Derrida, translation embraces multiplicity, non-origin, equivocation, and translatability remunerates difference.

It is in this sense, from the open inventory, that he writes, in Towers of Babel, that “Translation promises a kingdom to the reconciliation of languages”. Collaboration is by estrangement. From this angle, there is no fairness or non-fairness to consider. No original from which the resumption would be an imperfect copy. No logological reduction of difference. There are only retakes.

All the beauty of deconstruction – if we want to recognize it – is associated with a Kafkaesque interweaving of orders. This is how Olgária summarizes it, in light of Derrida’s intimate exiles: “Are we Greeks? Are we Jews? Are we Jews first or Greeks first? Who are we?” Doing like Cassin, when she points out that, in Greece, the barbarian is the one who doesn't speak Greek, she lets the question resonate.

Highlighting these points is all the more interesting, for those who want to follow the philosopher from Literature, as the Derridean plurilingualism thus honored does not fail to entertain relationships with the poetic reasons of a new criticismand Brazilian, which is also a translation school. Current is not by chance a frequenter and interlocutor of Derrida. And in fact, accused of being one.

We are talking about that heterodox, academically eccentric critique, active outside the stronghold of the public university, which happens to be challenged by another institutionally dominant formation, for which Derrida is the nod to a French superfluity, a false foreignness. , with a novelty enthusiasm typical of certain freeholds of our politically disengaged intellectuality. Thus ironically described by one of its most prestigious representatives, when accusing it of provincial nonsense: “the friends of intertextuality and Derrida”. According to formulation found in the volume of tests Brazilian Sequences (1999), by Roberto Schwarz, in the chapter “National adequacy and critical originality”. Text in which – as the title promises – the “national” will be given as a guarantee of “originality”.

In fact, Derrida's palindromes,whose “difference” no longer refers to the Logos however, in Olgária's expression, the “forces that no longer stabilize in an identity” are friends of the non-friends of the theorist of out-of-place ideas. Thus, tacitly, he will set the philosopher against doxa university student who finds intertextuality strange. This form of contrapuntal, polyphonic style, which, in baroque musical composition, is an intertwining of voices, replicating each other. Baroquisms disturb the “politics of authors”, or the sense of aesthetics of this establishment, see the cancellation of Gregório de Matos, from Bahia and Portugal, and reticence in relation to Oswald de Andrade and his Concretist heirs in the collection of his ideal library.

Along with this, it will also involve Olgária, as naturally, in the quarrel of the participating critics against the “accommodating” people, who, with their “happy language discoveries”, happily ignore “our atrocious social conditions”, according to the joke. schwarziana, in this volume with a title alluding to the time spent on the margins of the civilization that is What time is it? It will position it against a formation thought that ended up finding in the sociology of literature, via Antonio Candido, its best declination, as its followers assure, referring literature to the original genius of the language and place. Derride's reading of literature such as Antonin Artaud, James Joyce, Francis Ponge, Jean Genet remains outside this regulatory center.

Some fixated on the notion of nation and therefore of national language, imposing a historical-social vision of the works, their “adequacy”, precisely. It is also worth saying: the nexus of texts with the external material conditions with which they form a body. As Candido pointed out exemplarily. that, in essays from the 1970s, always considered seminal, around the naturalist novel created on-site visit, you will realize that this no longer pays tribute to European novelistics, now coming to shape Brazilian life, in the full extent of its trickery. This is where Schwarz's Machado's “voluble narrator” stands, a cipher of the effrontery of our civility that is both modern and slave-based. Others are more interested in the media, or in the language media than in the medium, in the sense of extra-text. Or more in the window than in the landscape. Or more in the ventriloquist than in the dummy. Those, Marxist social scientists. These, men of letters.

Olgária conspires – breathes together – with Derrida. This is why he is among the collaborators of A tombeau for Haroldo de Campos (2005), an international and internationalist collection organized by me at the time of the poet-translator's death – without monotonous separation of genres, as João Alexandre Barbosa would say –, two years before the collection's release. That already deals, at these times, with Philia, heterophilia, hospitality, in the name of the philosopher. “For Campos, transcreating means appropriating the source text, a usurpatory act governed by the needs of the present of creation”, it says. Thus, in practice, distancing themselves from the contextual fixed in the cohesive forces of the vernacular or language of the house. Taking the side of the textualists, on their side focusing on disseminations. Aligning with synchronist views that disregard the time and place of ideas. Disregarding – finally – the anathema that weighs on the discipline of the text.

Follow the aforementioned chapter more closely Brazilian sequences: “the demonstration that even a naturalistic text is the child of other texts and is not born from the simple consideration of the world does not mean that the moment of consideration does not exist. Against the pre-modern idea (but in tune with the media) of the procreation of works by works, in a kind of social vacuum, without reference to extratextual realities, Antonio Candido's argument shows us the reuse of another historical experience, which focuses on the model, being able to ruin or revitalize it, transforming it with or without property, and in any case guiding its reorganization and imprinting something of itself on it. There is also the possibility that the copy (in the sense of a second work as opposed to the first) results superior, which relativizes the notion of original, removing its mythical dignity and shaking the prejudice – basic to the colonial inferiority complex – embedded in these notions. However, these do not become superfluous, as the friends of intertextuality and Derrida would like, who for better or worse suppose a literary space that does not exist, without borders, homogeneous and free, where everything, including the original – and therefore nothing –, is copy. Only out of jingoism or thoughtlessness will someone say that the possible superiority of a Latin American artist over his European example indicates cultural parity in the respective areas, thereby hiding the inequalities and subjections that would have to be our subject par excellence. It is a good result of of construction, besides being a joy, knowing that as Latin Americans we are not metaphysically doomed to the inferiority of imitation […]. But it would be more blind not to see that innovation is not distributed equally across the planet and that if the causes of this inequality are not metaphysical, perhaps they are others (Schwarz, 1999, p. 26.).

Emphasize: “inequality and subjection would have to be our subject par excellence”. Opposed to the arbitrary nature of the sign, planetary injustice thus imposes reality itself on literary treatment. The real before the sign. The cultural one before its symbolic appointment. This allows not only to guarantee the relationships between words and things, since the former are for the latter, and not the other way around, but to accuse poetry made of words of happily ignoring them, taking one thing for another. The signified by the signifier.

The conflict between the vision of the eternal insufficiency of words versus the inscription of objectivity in itself is not a privilege of the periphery. In fact, following what happens in the peripheral beyond, the São Paulo critical quarrel leads and continues the famous battle of New Critique, which began in France in 1963, when a Sur Racine by Roland Barthes, which will also mobilize the reaction of literary historians, aware of the centuries-old presence of the authors, an endorsement of their truth. This is the outbreak of a movement of ideas to which Derrida is no stranger, since for him as for Barthes, the critic reads language.

Here too, the Sorbonne rises against the for doxa of the semiologist who dares to go to the letter of the text, in a horizontal reading, logical rather than chronological, without paying attention to the determinations of the time, in this case the court life under Louis XIV and Jansenism. Mainly, here too, the core of the invectives is the pointing out of an innocuous formalism. For critics of content, this is what defines, by repulsion, every avant-garde, as Barthes would retort, in Criticism and truth (1956). Added to this is that what cannot be supported is that language can speak about language.

It's not just about the role, whether committed or not, of literature. Greek-Jewish-French Derrida also involves Olgária in the dispute that, suddenly, begins to tension the understanding of the work carried out in the Department of Philosophy in which, between the years 1970 and 2000, she trained and worked. This was also achieved by the accusation that he would move in the same pattern of formal closure as Francophiles guided by the metropolitan costume. According to the explanatory statement by Paulo Arantes in A French overseas department. Studies on the formation of Uspian philosophical culture. An experience from the 1960s (1994). Volume in which the logic of the text enters the agenda again, for the same verification of its inconvenience, in the third world reality.

Another reader of Antonio Candido, the author's turning point is that the excellence of the philosophical work that was consolidated at USP, at the advanced time, after the first influx of the French mission that created the university and under the aegis of exponents of internal reading of philosophical systems such as Martial Gueroult and Victor Goldschmidt, develops the same type of paradigm that launches the friends of intertextuality and Derrida into exegetical practices that are as excellent as they are empty. The philosophy of the concept is philosophy minus the philosopher. The history of Goldschmidtian-type philosophy is without actors. The excellence of the department's professors, urged to reach the intellectual level of model visitors, sweeps the contradiction under the carpet. As we are told in the school's dispatched tone.

Paulo Arantes conjectures a philosophy made in Brazil, far from the agenda of internationalist trends, with the same feeling of dependence and the same sense of overcoming the colonial condition that the thesis of formative influx attributes to our literary culture, surprising in the genius of the language a principle organizer of the survey of the Brazilian experience. Like Schwarz, he does so by referring to Candido, who is more Lukacsian than new criticism. He thus associates himself with the “friends of Marx”, who here will have known how to “metabolize” him – to quote the same Schwarz in a very recent statement to Revista Piauí (edition 207/December 2023) –, managing to extract from The capital, which is read in an informed group, outlines capable of forming a “local feature of class antagonism”. Towards a dialectical historical structuralism, which not only fights with linguistic structuralism but makes its sign reasons an aversive object. Paulo Arantes then expands, in line with Antonio Candido, as noted by Roberto Schwarz, the relevance of these injunctions.

Unintentionally intertextualize

Semiotic resumption of what the ancients vaguely called subtext, based on the French linguistic turn, intertextuality refers to interior movements of language. More specifically, the existing connections between texts, which can occur through allusion, quotation, gloss, interpretation, and even copying, in line with Paul Valéry's bold hypothesis, in Variety, that Baudelaire loved Edgar Poe to the point of plagiarism. If not to remember Borges' fantastic assumption, in Fictions, that a certain symbolist named Pierre Ménard would have entirely rewritten Don Quixote, by perverse coincidence. In this sense, it is inherent to the translation itself and to the criticism itself, these metatexts.

Introduced by Julia Kristeva, who deduced it from Russian formalism, since its arrival on the scene, the concept stands out for serving new critics such as Gérard Genette, the aforementioned Barthes and Brazilian observers of the field, such as Leyla Perrone-Moisés, as a conceptual instrument for a redefinition of style as writing, and of writing as an eternal taking note of the limits of language and of itself. It is because of this self-reference that, for Barthes and his like, it is a form of criticism, a counter-ideological outlet. Freudianized by the Yale deconstructionists, it acquired an Oedipal nuance, coming to mean the writer's harassment of a predecessor obsessed with rereading or rereading or unreading. Thinking about the layers and layers of writing on the parchments, the volume's own Genette Palimpsests. Second grade literature (1982) will speak of “palimpsestuosity”.

Take advantage of the very words of those who make little of the concept for some final observations, which go in the direction of “pharmakon”. In Derrida, a fulcrum of ambiguities, between poison and medicine, typical of the verb itself, as it is capable of going along the lines of meaning and the opposite, accusing, like the palindrome, the artifice of representation.

Looking closely, the scansion “the friends of intertextuality and Derrida”, rather than being textually innocent, seems to retranslate an unhaunted way of saying by Adorno and Horkheimer, in one of the chapters that form the corpus de The Dialectic of Enlightenment.

It is in the part of the book that deals with mimesis and Ulysses, in the excursus entitled “Ulysses, myth and enlightenment”, alluding to song 12 of the Homeric epic, in which the character puts on a landscape face, camouflaging himself to overcome the danger that comes of the sea, which influences this convivial formula, until proven otherwise, foreign to philosophical decorum. In fact, it is to better define the hero as a precursor of the technical man, who already escapes the gods and circumvents the hostile nature, that, returning to Homer, in paragraphs where Circe's speeches appear, the text mentions the divine advice that pushes him towards the trick of escaping the spell of the sirens' song, making his sailors cover their ears and asking them to attach him, technically vigilant, to the mast of his vessel. That’s where we find: “the Olympian friends of Ulysses” (for “Odysseus olympische Freunde").

If we are not wrong, this stylistic coup, designed to demean the already industrious subject, grappling with control dispositions already with an authoritarian Enlightenment impulse, if not with bourgeois utilitarianism, has repercussions on Schwarz. All the more so since he is the first to confide in us, in Martinha versus Lucrecia. Rehearsals and Interviews (2012), highlighting that Adorno is always on the trail of social expressions behind discursive expressions, in terms of what is most problematic and crucial about them, that: “Reading Adorno is a humiliating experience, because of how much he sees where the reader saw nothing , or almost nothing.” And captivatingly adding that “this is only half of its strength”. It is appropriate to ask yourself: could there be greater surrender on the part of a reader to a privileged predecessor? Wouldn't what we have there invite us to think that, after that, in some way, all the author's reference to his other would be in the order not just of signing underneath but of counter-signature? And is it not true that, suddenly, and as if inadvertently, Adornian fervor ended up introducing into this sequence of Brazilian Sequences a kind of homologation of what Derrida’s North American readers called “anguish of influence”?

Likewise, the graceful saying “a French overseas department” is a quote by Michel Foucault, on one of his many visits to Brazil, in 1965. Although not exactly a devotee of Foucault, Paulo Arantes is the first to confide, in the many interviews that the launch of his book prompted, and are now collected in scientific journals and digital archives of our best culture notebooks. Foucaultians wonder whether such a utterance would have been praise or disdain, or a mix of both, on the part of the French intelligence envoy to the ill-formed tropics.

One can conjecture, due to his way of also seeing us culturally as imitators, that, in recovering it, Paulo Arantes leans towards the less favorable side. The fact is that, as in Roberto Schwarz set in Adorno's terms, the denunciation of the evanescent individual elements of the system does not prevent, in this case, the intertextual appeal, nor does it cancel Francophobia. One suspects: could it be that, for a second, and right on the frontispiece of his embattled book, the author of A French overseas department doesn't it adopt its predecessor's accent... and intertextualize it? In the end, doesn't he come across as the Molieresque character who wants to enter the secrets of literature... who writes prose without wanting to? And besides: doesn't your loose language quote Schwarz's, which cites Candida's oral speech from Minas Gerais?

The situation of the writer, especially a modern one, who has come to the unfortunate awareness that he is moving in a world that has already been spoken and that everything has already been said, explains the inverted position of the intertext, which does not drink from the pure source of literature but, conversely, feeds it back. It is from this position that Derrida makes, among others, in Ulysses Gramophone (1992), an attack on the continuation of Joyce's great Homeric mermaid scene. The title speaks of the astonishment of voices, now electronic, that surround Leopold Bloom, in a room in Dublin. The always citational and metonymic character of the Joycean text is thus taken to a maximum displacement, with the right to change the software.

Of the great besiegers of tradition, it is Kafka who most seems to Babelize Homer. In a tale from the estate's narratives, from the period 1914-1924, organized and translated by Modesto Carone, entitled 'The Song of the Sirens', he simply makes Homer a Kafkaesque narrator. In most of the translations and commentaries to which this Greek prototext gave rise, including in the pages of Dialectic of Enlightenment, Ulysses goes with his ears wide open, since he is well forewarned and tied up, to face danger. In the translation by Odorico Mendes, we have: “The ears of yours with wax tapes/ become completely deaf,/ you can hear them/ As long as you are tied along the mast, hand and foot; and if, unaware of your pleasure, you order them to let you go…,/ let your companions bind you tighter.” It's because he hears that, enchanted, he's going to beckon to be released, so he can jump into the sea, after his pursuers.

Now, in Kafka, he has his ears covered. And it turns out, this time, that the mermaids didn't sing. As he writes: “The song of the sirens penetrated everything, and the passion of those seduced would have burst more than chains and mast. Odysseus, however, did not think about it, although he had heard things about it. He trusted completely in the handful of wax and the bundle of chains, and with innocent joy he went to meet the mermaids, carrying his little resources. The sirens, however, have a more terrible weapon than singing: their silence […] And in fact, when Ulysses arrived, the powerful singers did not sing”. A displacement is thus introduced into the plot of the text that opens up the possibility of the absurdity of saying that, by not hearing the unsung arias, Odysseus did not hear the silence. Unless he heard him _ as the short story writer adds _, and pretended not to hear. That he thus imposed on the gods, these experts in disguise, their own game of appearances.

I find out in Nietzsche and women (2022), by Scarlet Marton, which the philosopher also calls Homer of the Sirens himself. Dealing with the way in which Nietzsche opposes himself, at the same time, to the illusions of metaphysics and the arrogance of science, to emphasize that it is within this philosophical enterprise that his perspectives on the feminine are understood, inseparable from his general antidogmatism, she returns an excerpt in Beyond Good and Evil in which the same scene takes place. In this part we read that: “Odysseus's closed ears [make him deaf] to the deceptions of the old metaphysical fowlers, who have fluttered his ears for too long”. Not listening takes on the dimension of Nietzschean superiority here.

We learn that Derrida rereads Heidegger with Nietzsche. Mythical power never ceases to exceed itself. Even words never end without telling their meaning. That's what the palindromes.

*Leda Tenório da Motta She is a professor at the Postgraduate Studies Program in Communication and Semiotics at PUC-SP. Author, among other books, of One hundred years of Modern Art Week: The São Paulo cabinet and the conjuration of the avant-gardes (Perspective).


Olgária Matos. Philosophical palindromes. Between myth and history. São Paulo, Editora Unifesp, 2018, 360 pages. []

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